tv First Ladies Influence Image CSPAN April 13, 2013 7:00pm-8:31pm EDT
[captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2013] >> polk became something of a shrine to her husband. surely took an interest in huand's partner. was her >> she grew up in a political household and tennessee. her father was a local politician, so she grew up loving politics. she married james after he won a seat in the legislature. she would not have married him if he was a flirt. james polk,tely for he died after being in the white began and sarah became -- her widowhood. it became sa shhingne to her husband. she would invite anybody who wanted to to come visit and see
the objects she had collected through their political career. >> to live there for many years on her own. during the civil war, generals on both sides would come and visit her to pay respects. it is an interesting commentary on what beloved status she held. >> she was honest about her husband's work. she went to every post she could go to with him. she went through the arduous journey. thewas very well-liked in diplomatic community. they met all kinds of people. friends and enemies and others. they had to make things work. they were very experienced people. they were more sophisticated than what is around them. shouldfelt that women develop their mind and cultivate scholarship as much as men. thaty groundbreaking at point in our history for a first lady to do. >> today, first ladies have causes, literacy and reading
would have been abigail fillmore's cause. this bookshelf was of the first white house library. she much preferred being in a room with a good book to standing in a receiving line making mindless chatter. >> abigail was a wonderful seamstress. we do have her quilt here. a very colorful quilt. >> she was one of the true intellectuals. she loved reading. she was very caught up on politics and very much liked being a part of all the cultural accoutrements that came with living in washington. seriesome to c-span "first lady's influence and image." in this we will meet three first ladies. they served during the 1840's and early 1850's as tensions continue to grow over the issue of slavery.
polktroduce us to sarah emma margaret taylor, and abigail fillmore, we have two historians. an author and historian in historic preservation. and a historian and legal scholar based at albany law school, the author of a biography of millard fillmore. welcome to both of you. james k. polk is sometimes described as the least known influential president. would you agree with that why? >> is certainly not are well- and he is certainly important. when he was nominated presd noident, public office. he had twice losthe govern otennessee. befo that he had been ar, athata er of congss heas a lawyer, practicing law in tennessee. he was what is known as the dark horse candidate. he had hoped to get the vice president's nomination, at is what he was pushing for. d ddenly, out of po is iale. moste't know who he is he becomes president and almost
immediately puts us in a position to have a war with mexico. he pushes for the war. he is prepared to declare war on mexico, and sends troops, including zachary taylor, who will be the next president, he send zachary taylor to the mexican border in an area that cpletely disputed a all international asset belongs to mexico. polk says it is american land. while taylor's troops are there, he goes to his counted and they vote on a saturday afternoon to ask for a declaration of war against mexico. that night, he gets a message, because it takes a long time to get information from mexico to washington. that night he gets a message that taylor's troops have been in combat. he rewrites his message to congress, saying, american troops have beenled on american soil. abraham lincoln would later give a speech in which he would say, show us the spot where it took place.
it was not on american soil. he gets us into war in mexico. it also means the complete blowup of all the compromises and cushions the countryat would ultimately be secession and civil war. but we don't know anything about him. >> his wife is also, frequently when you do modern struggle surveys of influential first ladies, she is always in the top tier. always. >> why? >> she was truly a political partner with her husband. they did not have children at a time when women were expected to be mothers and hearth and home, the keepers of the faith. she was very much her husband's political equal and his partner. she never went too far within the boundaries of what a proper victorian or early victorian lady should be in the 19th century. that everyone knew that they
shared an office in the private apartments. she was active in discussions at the many state dinners they had. and he would ask her to mark newspapers and articles for him to read. she was a sounding board. franklin pierce before he became president, told her husband that he would much rather talk politics with sarah polk then with james polk. and yet, the women of the time excepted her. she was very highest, very religious. a strict presbyterian. she did not allowed to go white house. she got rid of hard liquor. but they had wine and brandy with the frequent dinners they had. was b very much a woman who knew what she wanted and that her rules out and everyone had to play
according to those rules. she was respected for it. she was very popular. >> to introduce you to the polks, we will take you to the polk ancestral home. the house they lived in together no longer exist. but this historic site contains much of the history of the family. we will take you there next. >> this is theug an irediblpiece of history. it was a gift from president polk to his wife, sarah. ith heon day hisugation. it is gilt paper with bone styles and lithographic images of the fst1 presidents from washington all the way through james k polk. she carried it with her all the spring of f1845. the dearatof indepnce. the pokes came into white house, a young, vibrant couple
amidst a democratic party that was widely split. james k. polk said he would run for a single term only and then step down. sarah polk used the white house to enhance her husband political prestige. dining in their white house was a serious affair. twice a week, on tuesdays and fridays, mrs. polk would entertain 50-75 people coming to dinner. the china that they used was beautiful. it is considered some of the most beautiful of the white house china. iteatures the presidential seal embossed along the side, the dinners that is white embossed with gold. they had a tea set that was blue and a dessert set in green. she did not allow alcohol in the white house, her presbyterian upbringing precluded that. that is not exactly the case. she stopped the serving of whiskey punches, but mine was one of their largest goals during their years there. the more interesting objects in the collection, speaks to sarah
and her ability with music am a we have a music book that has handwritten notations. one of the songs featured inside is the song hail to the chief, which she is credited with starting as the official presidential anthem during her time as first lady. >> a moment to ask about that. there is a little controversy between our last program with the tylers, who are also claiming that they introduced "hail to the chief." is there a definitive answer on that jacko >> i won't touch it. [laughter] [laughter] >> it came about in the 1840's it is possible that the tylers used and the polks and confirmed its use. it is silly to worry about something about that. there are so many more important is to talk about. >> you drew the contrast with juliet tyler who brought dancing to the white house.
who ended her brief tenure by throwing a huge party as they left the white house. was sarah polk more in touch with the times? >> sarah polk -- it has been called an imperial presidency. meaning that the couple fought the office of the presidency and the white house as the executive residence needed to be highly respected. it was more formal protocol and so on. it was a very liberal approach. you could come with an introduction to any of their receptions. polk was a democrat. at the same time, they were well dressed, there were more formal dinners. there were multiple courses. it was considered an honor to be at the white house. basically, sarah polk said,
dancing at the white house is not dignified. >> she was known for frugality. the president making a $25,000 forar salary, and expenses the what has huckabee paid out of that. yow was her frugality seen g at t whiteou. ry ir a steward. they brought in their own servants and got rid of some of the paid that the white house. she then got her steward t cut deals with the various vendors, grocers, and so on in the washington area. if they give them significant discounts, they would give the the royal seal, it were. endor[laughter] >> it is the american version of that.
if you want us to buy all of your roles for all of our white house dinners, which were a lot, then you'll have to give us a discount. it worked. they were very frugal in that way. during the entire time they were married. >> just to clarify, she brought in her own servants, these were slaves. >> i was about to say, she owned those servants. that is important to understand. that they come from very wealthy circumstances and our slaveowners and bring a lot of assets with them. again, they can afford to be president, just as john tyler can afford to be president. >> we have a quote from her, i would like to have you put this into context. she writes -- if i can beuno we house, ixpect to live on $25,000 a year and i will neither keep house or make butter." theike hillary clinton
cookies. >>he context of it, someone said, i think i will vote for his opponent in the race, because they say his wife keeps a good house. and makes her own butt that was sarah's retort. by god, she did live on the $25,000 a year and did not keep house. she ran the house. she did not make butter. she made sure that utter was made efficiently and the place was run well. >> slave mistresses don't make butter must they enjoy the handicraft of making butter. it is important to see this for sarah polk and for margaret taylor. >> i want to tell folks that this is an interactive program. we are working facebook
comments and tweets in already. we also want to take your telephone calls. theput the phone number on screen and began taking your phone in questions as well throughout our program here. the three first ladies we are featuring in this part of the series. dolley madison has been part of our series -- this is her last hurrah. what was her role with the polk white house? >> she had come back to washington. sarah polk and dolly became very close. dolly mentor to sarah and sarah fed her. >> which was important because she was very broke. >> she treated her as the grand dame and honored her in theirte. they we .ar.r 2 an ma p twe tw
the nsoff, the sensh the underse role of the first lady and conveying of the -- sort of, indirect that would support her husband's residency. it is not easy to be a first lady during war. thewere many detractors as war went on. polk went in and said i will do the following things in four years, and he did. >> this is also the first time we have photography. and we have a fabulous photograph to show you on screen right now. which brings together a number of these characters all in one place. here are the polks, dolly madison is the second from the right with her turbine. and we have an opportunity here to see harriet lane, served as
white house hostess later on. dollyarah polk and madison and james k. polk. photography as a political tool, how do politicians abrb this new technology and begin to use it for their benefit? >> they are just beginning to figure this out. you really don't get it until the 1850's and maybe the 1860 election when photography is everywhere. now it is almost a novelty. it is not all that terrific. you have to sit for a long time. it is not a single shot in the picture is there. you have to sit there rigidly and not move while the photograph is being taken. towarde moving photography. much more important than photography is the very sophisticated line of type and art in newspapers.
you have wonderful campaign posters being done. when polk runs, currier of currier and ives does a campaign poster for his opponent. with a picture of henry clay. they are using that kind of technology. photography you probably want to save for the fillmore's and beyond. knownalso have the first photograph of the white house. we will show it next. we are working with the white house historical association throughout the series. as we look at this white house of 1846, sarah polk brought some innovations to the white house. central heating and gas lighting. bring didn't actually em [laughter]
let's say they a central heating and asked lighting, she didn't hold o when they put in the gaslight and insisted oval roomite houset rncandn slig, wthhut it wn for the light, the whole white house went dark. the oval room was still lit with the beautiful candlelight. e were experiments. it ultimately failed the esily lot of money. they had to kehe house out of that $25,000 salary. in,e efficiencies did come starting with the polks. >> central heating in the white house must've been a great innovation. >> it must've been a joke. [laughter] i don't thk u uld have beery rm >> other than the alternative. >> got it. >> you wonder, the nice warm fireplace in the right room keeps that room warm.
what you are getting at, which is always true for the white house, for every presidency, is that technology is going to change the way president campaign, the way they betray themselves and the way presidential families live. notice, by the way, you just had a picture of him sitting there. that is what you had to do when you are getting a photograph taken. i just saw a picture of john kennedy giving a speech with his fist in the air. you can almost see his fist shaking in the photograph. you can do that here. >> not as much sense of personality in the us photographs. >> we get a bad sense of personality. that these people are absolutely stiff and frozen and have no personality. they are dead. >> it is daybreak to keep them still. >> they are not smiling. it would be too rd to smile that long. >> the question from twitter -- what was sarah's educational background that allowed her to
be so politically savvy and an equal to her famous husband? >> her father was a great leader in educating women. she and her older sister were educated at academies in murphysboro, nashville, and then he sent them to the salem academy in winston-salem. salem college today. 500 miles away. it took him a month to get there. they were there for two years. she was unusually well-educated for her time. i think that atmosphere encouraged her to speak her mind and participate in discussions. she grew up in a political household. >> next question on twitter -- we will answer by video. dave murdoch asked -- let's watch this video. then we will talk with you about this, because you have
done some work on her gowns. let's watch. >> how sarah looked was important to her and how she was perceived by the public. it was also a reflection on the presidency itself. she was known for having beautiful dresses and looking incredible in a white house that was equally beautiful. the blue dress was purchased in paris in 1847 and worn by her late in the administration. it is basically a robe. it was the undressed dress costume of a first lady if she was taking visitors before she was properly dressed. alsoe ite dress is an, high-end fashion for th's. he cat in the nter. we get the indication she found a styles ud ai a style she liked and kept with it is a beautiful gown in silk
and satin. a great deal of lace attached, as well. always the frugal woman that she was, she often purchased dresses and would buy a great deal of material to go along with them so she could enhance them and change the way they look. instead of having to buy five or six gallons, she would buy a single gown, and change them. she had a wonderful collection of handbags and purses. her jewelry was of the american mode in the 19th century. it was thought to be un- american for women to wear precious gems and semi precious stones. you would wear gold and silver, french paste and enamelware. her headdresses were unusual. only a few have survived from this time. lk and satin and tend to get worn out. we have a wonderful collection of headdresses. one unusual piece, a turbine. by the 1840's whic probably
would have fallen a little bit out of fashion. we wonder if sarah polk may be opted that style after dolly mason. >> the author of this cover story in the white house history magazine, published by the white house historical association, showing that you have done a lot of work on sarah polk's approach to fashion and what it symbolized. what can you tell us the bikes she had a well-established sense of style from her childhood. during the white house years, she dressed elegantly for evenings and receptions. in the summer of 1847, they sent an order to paris for some for the first lady. it was not the usual style. all the invoices arrived, and so did the gowns, which is amazing. the top designers in paris were
asked to make some gowns are the first lady. this is usually done by a commercial agent that they had. he got the order and immediately found his good friend, "good friend", when around the paris shops and found and made three gowns. one at the smithsonian, the pink one, and the blue gown survive. it was very unusual for her. this order for clothes, lots of accessors, aiso's order in100to the pink gown you saw had more lace on it. the others were about $25, made
by seamstresses in washington. e fabric would've an extra. >> she was trying to find that sweet spot between frugality and image. >> she did so so well. everyone said she was beautifully dressed, had been full deportment. she carried herself like a lady, acted like a lady and was very gracious. >> at the same time we are learning about sarah polk and her modern approach to being a political partner, what is happening to women out large and united states? what is going on with women overall? at a beginning to ask for more power in society? >> the people in seneca falls are. it is important to have some perspective on what is happening to women at this time. for most american men, not much is changing and being asked.
the most important changes for women, the cutting edge of women in politics, is coming out of the antislavery movement. you have thousands of women who are politically active, really for the first time in american history. starting in the 1830's, the great petition campaign. ofdreds of thousands petitions show up in washington, asking congress to do things like not annexed texas. it was seen as a great slave conspiracy, which it was. end slavery and the district of columbia. many of these were gathered by women, and many women sign these petitions. what you get is women actively participating in politics to change america for the better. the other great women's movement is the temperance movement. they are active in movements to prevent prostitution. these are things that are close to what would be considered
domesticity for women, but is outside the house. it is in the public space. someone like sarah polk, with the exception of temperance, would have been appalled at what these women were asking for. eventually, by 1848, someone in and a few men, such as ed douglass, are asking for the right to vote for women. that is a long time in coming. it is beginning at this time. fromaders on thphone jackson,, mississippi. what iyostn? i w>>ld like to knn against james k. polk when he was running for president and did sarah polk play the part? >> polk runs against henry clay from kentucky. clay had run twice again before
this. he thinks it is his turn. he expects it will be a cake walk, because nobody has heard of jim spoke. he makes a number of mistakes dunghe camign, and in the end, in a very close vote, clay loses to polk. oddly enough, he carries polk's home state. when he carries new york, that puts him into the white house. of idti e, tery different from what see it was considered a proper for the caide to be called to office. active campaigning went to state offices like the governor. up candidates did not show at the nominating conventions,
afterwards when the were drafted and accepted the nomination, air with letters and the editor, but very little stump no stumping at all. sarah was her husband's campaign manager for his congressional campaign and gubernatorial campaign. during the presidential campaign, it was very much, basically, whatever you do they say, don't say anything. >> when he ran for congress, he would tend the district. he ran for governor three times, went all over the state of tennessee. one wonders what was going on in his mind when he was nominated for president. he had to sit home and do nothing except write a few letters. >> next is a question from mary in little rock. hi, mary. >> i heard somewhere that barbara bush is related to the
polks and she used their dinner service while her and george bush was in the office. is that true? >> i don't know. good question. >>rogrse as we get it barbara bush, we' anhat estion for you. we'll go backn me a learn about how political partnership came together. you told us sarapolk was from a wealthy family in tennessee. how aneet? >> they ran in the same circles. probably through -- either through andrew jackson or through her own father's family. lkent the -- graduated from the university of north carolina and then went into law and studied in nashville and became clerk of the legislature and they met there or they met at andrew jackson's because the polk girls were often at the jackson's home. certainly jackson is known or we think that he advised polk to marry her.
this is who you need as a wife, he would say. saidnt is commonly th solpolk she wouldn't marry him unless he ran for office but and of course he did and he won and they were married in 1824. >> so andrew jackson played something of a matchmaker here? >> he and his wife did not have children of their own and had many, many different young people that they took in. jackson would write to sarah and call her "my daughter." >> and patricia on facebook asked, is it true that a nickname for sarah polk was the spanish madonna? >> yes. >> where did that come from? >> s h ext and olive skin and they thought she looked european, exotic. >> the jacksons had no children but sarah and james k. polk had no children. beingas the impact of freed up from housework and not having to do that and her ability to become a political
partner? intothink they breezed that through the years when they realized they weren't going to have children. by the same token, they spent a lot of time with nieces and nephews and sarah, as first lady, brought her nieces into the white house to help her with entertaining and returning calls because she did not return calls. as first lady, she did not it, which was a change in tradition. sheand then when of course was a widow, she had a niece and great niece who lived with her. >> can i also add, had they had children, she would have had slaves who would have raised the children who would have done all the diapers and slaves who would have been wet nurses when the children were infants so the notion of the burden of families for someone like sarah polk would be very different than, say, when we talk about abigail fillmore who is a woman
of modest means and those raise her own children without the help of a house full of slaves to do the work for her. >> so sarah and james come to congress here in washington. what is washington like at that time and how involved was she in listening to congressional debates? >> she was very actively involved. he went for his first term without her and never tried that again because she didn't like being left alone at all. it was at that time he lived in a boarding house and several different elected officials lived together and shared meals and a parlor and they did that for years until he became speaker and then they had to have larger apartments but s ed the session of congress. she was very, very attentive to thisesf e y, and the elected members of congress who
were in the mess with her knew she a very tuned in congressional wife. how d th happen? makes it to >> piticking. i mean, he's a very good politician in the house. the first time he runs for speaker of the house, he loses. and he loses to a man who would later run for president in 1860, and then in the next time around he manages to win. part of it has to do with jacksonian politics. polk is jackson's man in the house of representatives and so e,olkjacks has aon to be s e ha>> w throut our history seen the ascendancy of the presidency and the ascendancy of congress. at this point in our his, which brangovech of ment has more power? >> i would say congress. >> so being the speaker was important? >> being the speaker -- now,
being the speaker is not as powerful as being president and we should understand that. but in terms of the politics of america, more, i think, is happening in congress than in the presidency. andrew jackson is an extraordinarily strong and dynamic president who pushes the envelope of the presidency and really alters the dynamics of the presidency for his presidency. it reverts back, say, when john tyler becomes president. he's a very weak president. and so being speaker of the house was important just as it's important today. >> it sounds like from this quote that sarah polk had a view of this when her husband was in the role. here's what she wrote -- "the speaker, if the purpose person and with the correct idea of his position, has even more influence over legislation and in directing the policy of the parties, than the president." says she. >> the polk -- particularly when he became president was a
powerful president. in terms of waging war, he pulled a lot of power into the executive branch, but henry clay is the one we all think of as building the job of the speaker of the house, the man who ran for president forever. but through the years the speaker's job grows, the presidency grows in power. it ebbs and flows, the balance of power is the key to the whole thing in that nobody ever just completely runs away with it and it was set up so that could not happen. >> our next video demonstrates the role of sarah polk as the political wife. >> the traveling desk is really indicative of sarah's life with james k. polk mainly has his help mate. james k. polk had no staff either as politician or president of the united states.
the traveling desk she took with her on the long trips to washington, d.c. traveledressman, they to washington in trips that could take 30 days and she's of course communicating with family and friends back home which means she wrote tens of thousands of letters during her lifetime so the traveling desk is indicative of communication in the time period. by portraits are painted ralph earl when james and sarah were in washington ssmaand lasarah was a help matem through the his political career. e wrspchhe would onion and newspapers and underline woulcritique them for her. daily she would read passages for him to read. thgallery cgular fixture in a great time to hear speeches of politicians like henry clay and john calhoun giving their eatest speeches in the time period and she was in the middle of all of it, very much a part of his political career so
14 years a member of the house of representatives, last four of those the speaker of the house, the only speaker to become president, which brings with it a new level of social status in washington, d.c. and sarah very much played the part of one of the official hostesses in washington. typically, congress would enact a memorial to the outgoing speaker of the house officially thanking him for his service. when james k. polk left congress to run for governor of tennessee, the congress was so divided, they refused to do that but in the newspapers a number of politicians wrote poems in honor of sarah at the me she left. one was united states supreme court justice joseph storey who wrote a lengthy poem lamenting the loss of sarah polk to washington society. >> today we would be amazed at a speaker of the house stepping down to run for governor. why did he decide to do this? >> i think because being speaker of the house is something that you didn't do for a really long time in those
days. congressional careers are often short in the 19th century and three or four terms in washington is probably enough. again, think of the arduous task of just getting to washington from tennessee, once or twice a year. it's a lot of work, a lot of effort, and being the governor is somewhat easier. it's probably less expensive. you are home and being the governor is a good way to build a political career for the vice presidency or presidency. the polk's eye is on is presidency. he doesn't think he could be president. but he thinks he could be vice president. >> next, the vice president next. >> and the pathway to the white house? >> the vice presidency is not a very good pathway to the white house. since thomas jefferson, only martin van buren had made it as vice president and tyler did only because of the death of the
president. >> sandy is watching from new new castle, delaware. >> my question is, what did sarah think about slavery and was she a kind slave master? >> the -- james k. polk in his will made an expression that he hoped that when she died she would manumit their slaves. as it turned out, she sold plantation before the civil war but the issue of rlly brought forefront during - either in this marriage or during his administration. it became much more crical widmth theistrations that follow polk. >> i think in some ways that's not true. >> go ahead. >> the politics of america from the 1830's to the 1860's is
swirling around slavery all the time. the opposition to the mexican war which polk starts andch we did not have to have, the opposition to the mexican war in part comes from northerners who see it as a vast conspiracy to steal mexico so that slave owners can have someplace to go and southerners say as much. they say we want mexico because want a place for slavery to spread to. slavery is on table. the reality is. the polks are slave owners, they are not opposed to slavery. they like being slave owners. being a slave owner is very th she treated her slaves as kindly or as unkindly as was necessary to get the labor and the support from the slaves that she wanted. >> heath in franklin, nnessee, your question. >> a hero of mine is a nephew of sarah polk named general lucious polk.
he served with general patrick claiborne and tried to get the confederacy, petitioned the confederate government to end slavery and get african- americans to fight for the south. he was wounded several times during the war and at some point he was sent behind lines and allowed to stay in columbia, tennessee, and he would eventually run the ku klux klan out of murray county but sarah polk, i've heard, somehow, kept him from going to union prison camps when any other confederate prisoner would have been sent to union prison camps. i heard she was afforded power because the union people just respected her so much. >> heath, thank you. i'm going to jump in because
our time is short and it's important to say james k. polk announced he would be a one-term president and we will get to your question because the civil war does come and sarah polk is a widow. how long does james k. polk live after leaving the white house. >> three months. >> three months. and so what happens to sarah polk and especially during the civil war? >> she becomes a widow. she wore widows weave for the next 42 years until she died practically at the age of 88 and the house they purchased and fixed up for retirement was a shrine for her husband. she was reclusive, only went to church,but received people. during the civil war, she did not take sides. the mayor came to her and said the union is coming into the ciwhat should i tell the union general and she said, you may tell him i am at home so he came to call and the confederates and the union
troops respected her. she did not take sides. she was completely neutral and she isolated herself into that period prior to the civil war. people put their artifacts in storage at polk place to preserve them but she just went right on through and she earned a great deal of respect for that. >> from both sides? >> from both sides. >> you have any more comments to add to this period? no, only that the contr tyler a member of the confederate government having once taken an oath to support the constitution of the united states so in that sense the contrast i think with sarah polk was revealing. >> jenny standard weber on facebook who apparently portrays her as a docent in canton, ohio. mrs. polk lived more than 40 years as a widow.
did she continue to be involved in politics after the president died? >> no, she did not. she would speak about her husband's time. any honors that were sent to her, she accepted on behalf of his memory. she was conversant with what was going on but not an active political player. >> we have one more video from the polk era. let's watch. >> james k. polk was a promised one-term president. as such, after four years, james and sarah polk were going to retire and while they wereine white house, as they were outfitting the white house as part of that restoration, they took the opportunity to purchase things for polk place, that home in nashville they were going to retire into. they purchased all of the furnishings for polk place through alexander stewart's shop in new york city and they picked some of the finest american furniture made at the time. they are rose wood framed with red velvet so we have
gentlemen's chairs and sofas. the side chairs, they had 33 of them. we have 18 remaining of the original set so they would ring the room with little chairs so they would have guests and bring them into the room. we have interiors of what it looked like probably taken around the time of her death in 1891 and the house is still filled with objects they collected throughout their political lives together. unfortunately for james k. polk, he died three months after leaving the white house and sarah began a 42-year widowhood. lk place and held a levy for the state legislature as a body. polk place became something of a shrine to her husband and she would invite anyone who wanted to to come for a visit and see the objects they collected throughout their long and illustrious political career. >> patricia lynn scott on facebook writes, "when i visited nashville, i was amazed at the plaques that recognized the homes and office of polk that were razed.
why would they allow those buildings to be torn down?" >> progress. toricin preservation over 40 years. if we didn't need to preserve histor i wouldn't be in the field. the polk home was torn down in nashville and the great niece kept the artifacts together until they could find a home and that's what the museum in columbia is but moer,li the madison's home, in private ha for yrs andeay t saved until the 10'these thingsl the time. the homes of the presidents are deemed to be among the most important but in some casesou have mulple homes that one president lived in. >> as we say goodbye to dolley madison's influence, sheldon cooper -- we can't do a program
without dolley in it. sheldon cooper asked, did sarah polk provide guidance to future first ladies? >> yes, 50 years after she was alive, you see, until the early 1990's, dolley died in 1849. so sarah was the embodiment of the elegant proper first lady after dolley died and the respect passed down with her, yes. >> so building on that, the question is, what is sarah polk's legacy? >> i'll let her answer this since she's written a great deal on sarah. >> i think that james k. polk probably might not have been able to achieve his ambitious one-term agenda without her help. whitertainly kept the house running because he literally worked himself to death and she handled his legacy well after his unfortunate early death.
we have most of the legacy is his, first postage stamp, permanent treasury department, almost doubling the size of the united states. and many things to be thankful for. arefirst ladies themselves not so much innovators as they are sometimes they embrace those aspects of the american character that the public needs and i think she did it very, very well. >> the election of 1848 brought the taylors into the white house and as we continue our program tonight, we'll learn more about zachary taylor and more importantly for our first ladies series tonight, his wife, margaret peggy taylor but it is a brief stay in the white house so it will be about 10 minutes' worth of exploration here. tell us the -- set the stage for the 1848 election. peaff
he chose to be a one-term ent, whichrobably was good because he obablyld nominan again and probablyould have been defea het office.very well liked when it is true that he started and alln but when hoveaheid heired his envoy tmexico and his negotiated a peace treaty after he had been fired and sent it back toashington and polk was forced to bring a treaty to congress that he did not ery, verywant sign or h the successful general zachary taylor and so he demoted taylor and put general winfield scott over him and then he got jealous of scott because scott was getting all the headlines. so when the war ended, polk is leaving, and taylor is the great hero of the war. anlor had never voted in
election. taylor had never done anything political. he had been a career military officer for his entire life. his wife, margaret smith taylor, peggy taylor, as she's known, had traveled with her husband to some of the most remote military bases in the country. she had been a military wife, the wife of a man who started as a lieutenant and ended up as aajeneral taylor's politics were almost unknown other than that he said over and over again, he wanted henry clay. henry clay, of course, had lost to polk, and henry clay believed it was his time to win, 1848 was going to be a wig year, clay's party is the wig party. clay thinks he will win and out of nowhere taylor gets the nomination and clay is absolutely devastated that he doesn't get to be nominated and
in addition to taylor getting the nomination, a completely obscure almost unheard of person, millard fillmore, who, when nominated, is the most obscure person ever to be nominated for president at the time, gets the vice presidential nomination so you have this axis of taylor, a louisiana sugar planter, running with fillmore, the comptroller of the state of new york. for me there's a personal thing which i have to say, i currently teach at albany law school where fillmore was living and next year i will be a visitor at l.s.u., a law school in louisiana, so i'm the embodiment of the albany-baton rouge accent, as well. >> i'd like to say, let's don't discount that the mexican war brought us all of the western southwest -- california, new mexico, et cetera. he was the commander-in-chief
and he acted like it and if it upset winfield scott who had quite a temper, and zachary taylor, so be it, but as it turned out, that's what history has recorded. we greatly expanded the unitedse got those properties for very, very little. in terms of the history of real estate, polk rates high. >> on to zachary taylor. >> only if you think that going to war with a country to steal half their country is an appropriate and legitimate thing to do and significant numbers of americans believed that the mexican war was purely a land grab and a of aggression and many americans, including john c. calhoun, a great defender of slavery, believed the mexican war was a huge mistake because calhoun predicted correctly that once you had the mexican war, you
would open up again the question of slavery in the territories and that would cause a catastrophe, which it does. >> zachary taylor, old rough and ready. he was the last southerner elected for 64 years until wilson and the last president to hold slaves while in office in the white house but his partner in all of this was margaret, known as peggy taylor. what do we know about her? >> she was not particularly keen on being first lady. she had gone around to all of his postings with him. they had innumerable children. it's interesting that their daughter, knox, married the young jefferson davis, who fought with taylor in mexico and unfortunately their daughter died after only three months of marriage but later when they were in the white house the taylors became quite close with jefferson davis and his second wife, varina, and
varina was close to the first lady. the first lady let her daughter do a lot of the entertaining and it was such a brief amount of time, really, that they were in office, that -- what else? >> he was inaugurated in march of 1849, elected in 1848 but didn't take office until march of 1849 and taylor dies in july of 1850 so there's essentially a 15-month period when they were in the white house and she doesn't want to be there. >> she retreats to the upstairs of the white house. >> she basically retreats to the upstairs of the white house. oddly enough, like her predecessor, she came from a political family. one of her aunts was married t a three-term governor of maryland. onof wasri son of maryland
she came froa very, very wealthy family of maryland planters although she grew up most of her early years in the washington, d.c. and northern virginia area. herg other things, one of playmates was nellie custis who was the gran martha washington. so this is somebody who's been around politics, as well, but the opposite of sarah polk. she doesn't want t iold in politics. e didnwanter husband to rufor presen accordinga snapshot, to the census of america, in 1850, as this president is serving. the population was by that point 23 million and there were now 30 states in the united states, that's almost 36% growth since the 1840 census. slaves in the united states numbered three million or 13.8% of the population and the largest cities in the country in 1850 were new york city,
baltimore and boston. washington, d.c., we've learned throughout the series, as a capital city, traded on gossip and the gossip about peggy taylor was much like rachel jackson, that she was a pipe smoker and didn't bring style and substance, very different than what paul described. what's the truth about her? >> i don't think -- >> she didn't smoke a pipe. l's start with that. the pipe smoking is utter nonsense and in fact all of the people close to her say she was in fact allergic to smoke and nobody smoked around her so the problem is she is a military wife who's traveled from base to base. she's gone -- she lived in some style even on those bases because the taylors were very wealthy, they had lots of slaves, they had a plantation in louisiana. some of the slaves would travel with them to bases but she was not a high society woman. she was not a woman who wanted
to be around a crowd and this was not a world that she felt at all comfortable with and i'm sure when she got to washington and dealt with the gossip and the parties, she simply felt that this is not where she was comfortable and she didn't know how to compete and she didn't know how to operate and so she retreated to the second story of the white house and let her daughter do most of the entertaining. nd gossip continued because she was an enigma. >> and she wasn't there to defend herself from the gossip. >> how did zachary taylor die? >> he had cholera, didn't he? >> no. on a h july 4 day.wathe pade zayl was a teetotaler and he either spent the day eating cherries and milk or cucumbers and milk, depend on who you ask, and if one
imagines what bowl of milk uld look like aer a hot july day in washington, d.c. without ice to keep it cold, he got some kind of intestinal disease and he was a very tough man. he had survived winters in michigan and minnesota. he had survived the deserts of mexico. he was rough and ready. the one thing he could not ctury cke was bled and they did all sorts of other things, including giving him mercury which would have killed him if they gave himugh. he may have died from an intestinal virus. he may have died because the doctors killed him. what we do know is that he died very suddenly. perhaps taylor was the last president who could have managed
to somehow change the civil conflict. he did not believe in spreading slavery to the west. he thought all the territories tan from mexico ought to be free. he was a man who was willing to stare down and if necessary, lead an army to suppress southern, at the nationals, the suggestion of session. at one point, but texans were planning to march into santa fe, and taylor sends troops. onn image that if they did this again, he would have said i would that be happy to personally lead the army to austin and personally hang the governor of texas. >> a couple of quick questions. i read that mrs. taylor was a
devout episcopalian and she promised got to give up the pleasures of society if her husband returned safely from work. >> i have read that as well. in several different publications. i don't think she realized that when her husband came back from the war, she was going to end up being fi >> bethany johnson went to -- has two questions about margaret taylor. did she play any instruments that we know of, and how old was she when she died? >> she was born in 1788, so that makes her about 65. >> she died by many accounts from a broken heart. she was convinced that zachary taylor was poisoned.
>> that is right. >> that was a story that stayed with that retailer for many years. our le, w eors bo no poison. >> when fillmore becomes pr people sinthat tlor was poisoned. americans or all conspiracy eorists. >>e are obably notlo in that. let'ncolumbus, ohio. on t air. >> i was wondering if it is true that when margaret taylor prayed for her husband's defeat for the esency, she was that much against it. when she an invalid in the white house because of difficulties of having so many children? >> i don't know that she
actually prayed for his defeat. he was the first to admit that she was not very happy with his victory. >> many of these stories are written well after the fact. as a historian, we have to question where is the sour of these stories? if you hear the stories told in five different stories and it turns out it is the same story told over and over again. the's a stat apparentlytrue. he was on the steamboat when the movement was to make him the nominee and somebody asked him who he was going to vote for. taylor said i am not sure, and the man said i am voting for taylor. he does not know he is talking to tayler. he said i would not vote for taylor because i personally know his wife does not want him to run for president. taylor was very unassuming and often did not appear to be who he is.
there is a true y that when he was in mexico, he was sitting in front of a tent, not with his general's stars on, and a young officer came up to him and said, will you shine my boots? taylor shined the guys boots. the next day the officer came to him as commanding general. >> this is the second time in history a president dies in office. did we do a better job with it the second time around? it was not a constitutional crisis the first term. >> quite frankly, they never fixed it until after the kennedy assassination. >> when harrison dies, the question is, does john tyler become president or does he remain vice presidents and acting president? that is something the constitution does not addressed. john quincy adams, who hated
john tyler, used to refer to him as his accidentcy, rather than his excellency. by the time fillmore becomes president, there's no question the vice-president will be inaugurated and sworn in. fillmore and graciously asked margaret taylor to stay on in the white house as long as she wishes. she moved out two days later. she had had enough. >> you told us earlier about the new york and baton rouge access. we will learn more about that from video. here is a bit of the millard fillmore home that you will see now on the videotape. [video >> we are in the home little home that belonged to mildred and abigail fillmore. theyid meet when they were both teachers.
they both had this desand love of reading. abigail ought up in family that many b. her father was a baptist preacher, and he loved to read. so she was surrounded by books her whole lifetime. when she moved into this house with millard fillmore, she continues that. they had their own personal library, and she wanted to let young people learn extensively about the world as it was. this room that we are in is actu the focus of the enre house. history is made right here. she independently employed herself as a teacher. she tutored young students in the evening, mainly in the course of history. this would have been living room, but also serve as their kitchen. here in front of the fireplace, they would spend hours by the light of the fire.
they would do their reading and writing, and abigail fillmore cooked in this very room. this was her kitchen. here we are in the bedroom. their original staircase had quite an angle to it. we do believe there was a wooden ladder at the time when they lived here. as a young wife and mother, dressed in a long skirt, and with a toddler on her hip, she ascended that ladder into the bedroom. in this room have the fillmore bed and dresser. we know that abigail was wonderful seamstress. do have her quilts here, a very colorful quilts here call the tumbling blocks pattern. this was a very busy place. east aurora was a vibrant community. she would have had many people come in to have tea. we can envision abigail having a
very full life. we do see her as a hospitable young woman, young life, young mother, a teacher. >> that house is still available to visit if you are ever in east aurora, new york. the 13th president of the united states was the last whig president. all came from modest means. all the presidents before brought personal wealth to the white house. this begins a series of presidents who are more or less middle-class. what is the impact of that on the institution? >> long-term, i think that what we see with the fillmores was something of a change that will follow through in the 20th century, looking forward. but the economy -- the civil war
is a giant hiatus in terms of business. who were the others that are not wealthy? >> there are four presidents before thiouinfillmore, who are not lcome. -- not weth wealthy at the ba fily. millard fillmore grows up in abjeovtyes andrew miarfamily does not own their land. abigail fillmore, abigail powers grows up, her father dies when she is two. eyo't have very much money. shteacmea r. she is the first first lady to have worked outside the home.
she not only worked outside the home before she was married, but after she is married for the first few years, she works as a schoolteacher. these are people who have experienced poverty and have not achieved anything other than middle-class status. after her death, millard married very well. >> paul has written a book on millard fillmore. here is his biography if your interested in reading more about our 13th president. it is still available where you shop for books. we have about 20 minutes to learn about the fillmore presidency and about abigail. she brings a sensibility to the role of first lady. approach the job?
>> what she is known for, her legacy, is that she created the first white house library. what her father left to our mother when he died when she was just a little girl was books. they kept those books and it became the core of her education, and obviously instilled in her and love of educating others. the congress appropriated $2,000 for the president to establish a white house library, but it was pretty much understood that she would be the one who worked on the library. she really prefered to read and engage in intellectual pursuits. but she did her duty. she helped her husband, and she had a bad ankle, as i recall. >> she has an injury shortly before he runs for vice president and she cannot stand. she cannot go to receptions and stand, so she avoids things like that as much as possible and let her daughter do much of the role of the white house hostess.
the introduction of the white house library be controversy withon ret e ul d kecommittee members to bring the library to the white house. >> she would go out to dinner parties talking with them. taing that she y coinhees $top a white house library. apparently she did a very good job of selecting a broad category of volumes for the library. she was interested in music. >> they were also very interested in geography. they loved that. they are very interested in the world in that respect.
she is the schoolmarm. the little film about the fillmore house, there was one slight error. they were not both teachers. millard fillmore was actually her student. she was 21 years old and she was teaching in a private academy, and millard fillmore had been apprenticed to a textile factory to learn how to run of making machinery. -- cloth making machinery. this was during the 1830's in the middle of the depression. the factory laid off everybody for a while. so fillmore used this term to go back to school, and fell in love with his teacher, and she fell in love with him. tractive described as at
people. queen victoria would later say that he was the most handsome man she had ever met. that might be an exaggeration. here you have these two young, handsome people, and miller fillmore is over 6 feet tall at a time when most men do not grow to be that tall. he must have been a striking figure. they glom onto each other and have a very long courtship. that ultimately do not marry until about five or six years later. at first the court ship was by letters. >> north dakota. you are on. thanks for watiting. >> i was just wondering, did mrs. fillmore -- what did she do after she got out of the white house? >> let's deal with the white house years first, and we will come back to your question in just a little bit.
tuscaloosa, alabama. >> did the white house have plumbing, and if it did not, when did they get plumbing? are they still in use today echo -- today? >> we learned about gas light and heating coming into the white house. what about plumbing? >> fillmore is credited with having the first bathtub in my house. it is not clear if it is true. this is the problem whenever you say what is the first in the white us we do know they installed either the first bathtub or a new bath tub in the white house. >> do you know if religion paril and their presidency? >> let me take that, because i
is important to understand howi. abigail is the daughter of a baptist minister and she is raised in a baptist community in raupstate new york. they are raised in the middle of nowhere in centralork. millard has various religious training growing up. but they were married by an episcopal priest, because in the town that abigail lives then, the most prestigious churches are the iscopal church. they then moved to buffalo and beco unirians, because of the smart and successful people are becoming unitarians. in fact, religion for the fillmores reflects what i would ca atheir journey from poverty to middle-class status, to ultimately a secure position in society. they changed churches as they go up the social ladder. >> we are going to learn more about her love of books and her
establishment of a white house libry in ts next video. [video clip] when she came to the white house, she was appalled there were no books. this bookshelf was part of the first white house library that they were able to get congress to give her money to start the first white house library, which still exists today. literacy and reading would have been abigail fillmore's cause. it was very important to her as a teacher. abigail suffered from illness and during her time asked -- as first lady. mary abigail would have been a hostess for many of the events. this would have been one of the many items used during entertaining at the white house. mary abigail followed in her
mother's footsteps and was very educated herself. she spoke five languages. she would play the harp for congressmen who came to visit the white house. we have her piano in her music books that she would have played from, and we also have her harp, that was in the white house. she literally entertained. the theinhite h that they established as their library was in fact an oval room. this is from our white house documentary when we visited there. that room during the fillmores time was filled with bookcases and musical instruments. it became a salon. how did they use it? >> exactly as a salon.
>> was it useful in their legislative role? >> she participated in the formal dinners downstairs, but there was receiving always going on. the white house had very little privacy.her terest in writers. >> she had charles dickens come to the white house. >> she brought some of the leading lights ie hous k annenderstands whate, i don't those receptions were like when they open e white house for thousands of people. hours and hours of standing on your feet. >> but this a largely created, it would seem like a very intimate place to bring key members of congress and others. was it a way to be at the inner sanctum as the president and and advanced the goals?
>> i think there were few congressmen in those days that were interested in talking to a novelist or a cultural figure like that. she brought the woman known as the swedish nightingale. that would have been a celebrity. perhaps the members of congress would come to see the celebrity. i think that in a sense, there is a bifurcation here between abigail fillmore creating a cultural setting that the former schoolteacher really wants to do. as a mother, she is always a schoolteacher. she writes letters to her children at various times in their lives. corrng their spelling in these letters and giving them lists of spelling words to learn. she may also be always educating her husband, who is not quite as well educated and she was.
>> what kinds of titles and offers were in the first library in the white house? >> a lot of shakespeare. it was a mixture of the classics. probably lots of histories. >> and i know a lot of geography books. they were very interested in foreign countries. as president fillmore sends commodore perry to open up japan, this is in part because fillmore has a personal interest in it things foreign and exotic. >> it is so important, but we have to talk about the major legislative peace, because zachary taylor died just as the compromise of 1850 was being debated. millard fillmore picks up the debate over that legislation. what is the significance of the compromise of 1850? what did millard fillmore do? >> it was introduced by henry clay, the disappointed guy who
did not get to be president. the goal is to solve the nation's problems. as it emerges in congress, it is a series of separate bills, not one bill. among other things, it will organize the new mexico territory that includes arizona, the utah territory which includes nevada and utah and parts of colorado.itou e unio a free e. it also would prevent the sale, washington d.c., but it would also give millions of dollars to texas. it would subdivide ption ofmeco this west texas to texas, which previously, no one had believed belonged to texas. and most importantly, created the fugitive slave law of 1860. it is an outrageously unfair law
in which alleged fugitive av are not even allowed to testify at hearings on their own behalf. if a free black is used in new york, the man cannot say no, you have the wrong person. fillmore pushes the fugitive slave law, signs it, almost immediately after it is passed by congress, and very aggressively enforces it. >> how did the compromise of 1850 work into the timelines of abigail fillmore? do we know about her position on slavery and how it might have complemented or been different from her husband? >> i don't. >> what is odd about millard and abigail is that they come from a part of new york known as the burned over district.
it is said that the fires revival has been burned over so often, it was the most antislavery part of the united states. it was the center of the anti- slavery movement. william seward, is starting his political career. just down the road, frederick douglass will live in rochester, new york. neither of the fillmores ever lift a finger to fight slavery. they never show any hostility to slavery at all, and they showed no sympathy whatsoever to free blacks. it is really quite shocking that they are completely clueless about this. when he is running for a vice- president, someone accuses him of helping runaway slaves escape. in a letter that is so shocking
i would not say it on air, he says incredibly horrible things about black people, like why would i ever lived my finger to help them? -- lift my finger to help them? >> any trend in national education or in the library expansion? >> to my knowledge, no. but you have to look for the long term. they did not have the instantaneous communication. her books were not going to set off a trend for banks like modern communications do. what we are beginning to see as we go into the second half of the 19th century is normal work for middle-class women, teaching and so on and so forth. obviously they would be aware that they had a first lady who was a teacher, an honorable profession, and havit library certainly was known.
>> thanks for waiting. you are on. wust woering how many children did the fillmores have? >> two. >> and one of them served as the offial hostess in the white house. time is short, let's hear from ben next, watcng in los an in pa iwas toce trade with europe and other countries, so rescinds perry to japan. .- so he sends perryo japan at the time, japan was completely closed to the outside world, and fillmore sends the united states naval vessels and says we are here, you are going
to trade with us whether you like it or not. the japanese refer to it as the dark ships. i saw an exhibit in japan of japanese cartoons in which perry is portrayed as a monster. they thought this was horrible. he also negotiated treaty with switzerland to allow trade on equal terms for a swiss and american citizens, but the treaty has a clause that says this can only happen if people in america would be eligible to own land or have businesses in switzerland. many swiss cantons did not allow jews to own land. when fillmore was told about this, he said it should not really be a problem. he does not seem to be interested in issues that would involve minorities. he later becomes a know-nothing. >> last qurestion. >> thank you for this series on the first ladies.
the fillmores met charles dickens in washington in 1842. they did not host him at the white house. also, they did entertain washington irving and william make peace thackeray. "avatar reportedly is biased dlyitw was reoporte millard not to sign the fugitive slave law. one of her best friends and buffalo was the most prominent abolitionist there, george washington johnson. >> tell us about abigail fillmore's legacy. >> learning and literacy. books. >> and the fact that she might have influenced literacy by being a working woman. >> yeah. careers for women. >> sadly, she dies very shortly after, and her daughter dies two years later. i can only say that there is no documentary evidence whatsoever that she advised fillmore not to sign the fugitive slave law. people like to throw this out there because they want to
enhance people's reputations, but there is not any evidence whatsoever. >> abigail fillmore died in the famous willard hotel just very shortly after the inauguration of their successor, franklin pierce. name was tually pierce.ction, g and so we will tweestion for suk wh with the pierce adstonthanks to both of our gues for being here and our thafpks hi thel association for their help throughout this series. dd [captioning performed by national captioning institute] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2013]